CLEVELAND -- The Indians officially have a third person to rotate into their center-field mix.
Amed Rosario was penciled in atop the Tribe’s lineup in center field on Friday against the Tigers. This marks the first time in his big league career that he’ll see some innings in center. Rosario played there just a handful of times this spring to get used to his new position, but he only had approximately two weeks to get comfortable in the grass. Now, it’s time for him to man center field in a real game.
“I really wanted to get him in center,” manager Terry Francona said. “[Tigers starter Julio Teheran] is a guy he’s faced, I think probably 18-20 times, so he’s got at-bats. I wanted [Andrés] Giménez to play [at short on Friday]. I just thought trying to find the right time to get him into center field.”
Rosario passed his first test, tracking down a long fly ball to deep center for the first out of the game, and made it through his seven innings unscathed in Cleveland's 4-1 win at Progressive Field.
You know what, he doesn't back down, man. He's OK," Francona said. "He's going to be OK. Is it going to be perfect? I don't know. But he might just be OK.”
The Tribe platooned Jordan Luplow and Ben Gamel in center field for the first five games of the season. The club certainly prioritizes getting Luplow at-bats against left-handed pitchers (and rightfully so, considering his career OPS against southpaws is .978), but if Rosario proves to be a consistent and reliable bat each time he’s given an opportunity, he could convince Francona to play him more often. If Rosario was a left-handed hitter, he could easily take Gamel’s spot and platoon with Luplow. But because he’s also a right-handed hitter, it could become difficult to balance playing time between him and Luplow. Regardless, the team wants Rosario to get more plate appearances.
“I talked to him about it the other day because this -- I don’t want to say ‘experiment’ -- but moving him to center, it’s cost him some games early in the season,” Francona said, “and I talked to him about that. So I wanted to get him out there and get him going in center field.”
On the days Rosario started at shortstop, he practiced solely at short. But every other day since the team left Goodyear, Ariz., he’s taken balls at shortstop and center field to continue to get reps in the outfield. He’s far from a finished product as an outfielder, but the Indians have been optimistic about his progress in just under a month since he made the transition.
“The thing that really gave me the most hope this spring was I think it was his first game in Goodyear and there was a line drive hit right at him and he didn’t jump up,” Francona said. “He didn’t go back, he just stayed put, stayed balanced and then came in and caught it. I remember thinking, ‘OK, he’s certainly not panicking out there and he’s being athletic.’ I thought that really -- It gave me some peace of mind.”
Within the first eight days of the season, the Indians enjoyed three off-days. And while it was beneficial for the players to take advantage of the time off to help ease their bodies into the grind of a 162-game season, Francona is looking forward to the club’s upcoming 10-game stretch to get some of his relievers more consistent work.
“As soon as I say it, the guys will probably get overworked,” Francona joked. “But I’d like to get Oliver [Pérez] in and guys in some semblance of a routine because I think that’ll really help them. If [Bryan] Shaw only pitches every other day, he breaks out in hives.”
Chang impressing at first
Yu Chang only had a few appearances at first base in Spring Training before the regular season got underway. And for someone who had such little experience at the position, he’s filled that role quite nicely for the Tribe, experiencing just a few hiccups.
“I think he’s actually done really well,” Francona said. “But like the other day, there was a ball hit to center field with a runner at second and I heard [third-base and infield coach Mike Sarbaugh] scream for him to be the cutoff man, and somehow he heard him and he got there, but he was a little late and I think that’s to be expected. And I think he cut off a relay or two where he wasn’t sure where to go, and we just told him, ‘If you’re not sure go somewhere. Just be a baseball player and go where you think you can help.’”